Caribbean Rum (The New Cognac) and the Miami Rum Renaissance Festival

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Tim Padgett (for WLRN) explains why Caribbean rum is now as prized as fine cognac or single-malt Scotch. He also focuses on the Miami Rum Renaissance Festival, which takes place this weekend, April 25 – 27, 2014, at the Doubletree Hotel (located at 711 NW 72 Avenue in Miami, Florida) near Miami International Airport. Here are excerpts; read full article and hear Padgett’s interview with South Florida and Caribbean rum connoisseurs in the link below.

[. . .] Fast forward a few centuries to rum respectability – specifically, to Rob Burr’s patio deck in Coral Gables. From the waterfall pond to the tiki bar, it sets a mood not for swilling rum but for tasting it. Not the way spring-breakers chug Captain Morgan but the way cognac drinkers sip Napoleon. Not with Coke (or gunpowder) but neat, in a snifter. [. . .] Says Burr Sr., “There are probably a thousand or 1,200 rums sitting around here.” The Burrs appraise all of it, pouring their notes into the authoritative Rob’s Rum Guide. That in turn helps set the stage for the annual Miami Rum Renaissance Festival, or Miami Rum Fest, which they’ll host this weekend at the Doubletree Hotel near Miami International Airport.

The event, which drew 12,000 visitors last year, has become a central stage for what you might call the rum revolution – the recent ascent of high-end, premium rum. Don’t let the name Rum Fest fool you. It’s not a college beach bacchanal; it’s rum for grown-ups, for people who know that most aged rums today are distilled as masterfully as fine cognacs and single-malt Scotches. “We’d call it a renaissance,” Burr Sr. says. As he puts it, part of the festival’s mission is to “change the perception of rum. It’s perceived as ordinary when in fact it’s fascinating.”

The trend is most of all a Caribbean coming-of-age party. There’s hardly a country or island in the basin these days that doesn’t produce an upmarket aged rum – whose prices can range from $25 to $250 or more per bottle. Among some of the best: Santa Teresa 1796 from Venezuela; Matusalem from the Dominican Republic; Bielle Rhum Vieux from a speck on the map called Marie-Galante.

Many rum master blenders are now industry rock stars. Lorena Vásquez blends one of the most acclaimed rums, Zacapa, in Guatemala. “These rums,” she says, “have become some of the Caribbean’s most prized ambassadors. They’re a marvelous reflection of our culture.”

But if this is about a new boom in the spirits industry, it’s also about a new bond between the Caribbean and South Florida. Very little rum is actually made in Miami. Still, as the Rum Fest suggests, rum reputations are. The city today is rum’s premiere showcase, as evidenced by the more than 80 fine rums on the menu at Ortanique, a Caribbean restaurant in Coral Gables.

“It’s almost a natural for Miami and South Florida to be the Mecca of rums,” says Joel Garcia, Ortanique’s bar manager. “It’s always been the depot for the Caribbean, whether it’s the melding of people or the melding of spirits.” One of Garcia’s favorites: “Pyrat, from the British West Indies, if you wanna try something that will blow you away in a snifter.”

Despite the almost cult following these rums are building in the 21st Century – reminiscent of the craze for The Glenlivet and similar silky Scotches at the end of the 20th – sales of premium rums aren’t yet blowing away cognacs or single-malts. But they’re rising year after year; and ironically, that’s partly because rum in general carries a younger, hipper cachet than those other spirits do.

That may help explain why spirits giant Bacardi of Puerto Rico finally released its own line of premium aged rums last year, including Paraíso, which sells for $250. [. . .]

For full article, see http://wlrn.org/post/why-caribbean-rum-new-cognac-and-why-miami-its-showcase

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